Monday, 28 December 2009

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Sunday, 13 December 2009

karaoke nationalism

One of the things I love about the country of my birth is that hardly anyone knows the words of our national anthem. This was brought home in true karaoke style at the Menzies Centre's Christmas party last week. The device shown here projected the words of the anthem onto a screen while the (belaureled) head of our former Prime Minister chose to look the other way (he would have much preferred 'God Save the Queen').

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Monday, 7 December 2009


When I was in my early to mid teens it wasn’t hard for my parents to choose my birthday and Christmas presents. The Beatles in those years brought out two albums a year in synchronicity, more or less, with these two occasions. All of the Beatles albums I owned, up to and including Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, were in mono. I didn’t realise it at the time (I owned a small portable record player and mono was what it did) but the Beatles themselves only paid attention to the mono pressings, leaving the stereo mixes to the EMI boffins in their white lab coats. I sold my albums in the late 1980s, replacing them with CDs which were, of course, stereo mixes. Not that I listened to these all that much. Partly this was because when the music originally appeared I had listened to it with the attention only someone of that age can bring to things. I knew every note of every song and if I had the vocal cords of a Petra Haden I could probably have duplicated a lot of the musical parts. Partly also, as I now realise, the sound on these CDs simply lacked the immediacy of the old mono (and later stereo) albums. So I investigated the new Apple pressings of the works and, to my surprise, I found myself listening with the excitement I had originally felt for much of this work. The sound now jumps out of the speakers (or the cans) as it once did and the stereo mixing has been done with care. I can hear small parts in some of the songs that I swear I had never heard before. The only problem is that the mono/stereo choice has already been made for all but the most fanatical (and salaried) discophiles. The mono mixes will only be available as a complete set, the lame excuse for this being that too many different versions of the disks would cause confusion and clutter in the stores. This just doesn’t wash with me. The band and the record company have made a lot of money out of us punters over the years. The simple answer to the problem is one that has been used before for other sixties bands: put both mono and stereo mixes on the one disk (and sacrifice the DVD moments).

I’m interested too in the shift of critical consensus over the relative worth of these albums. In the wake of progressive rock, Sgt Pepper was long thought of as the Beatles’ ‘masterpiece’ but from the late seventies on (roughly speaking) Revolver became the more highly regarded album. In the 2000s I sense that the honour has passed to the ‘White Album’, though there’s always a few who’ll differ with this (like Billy Childish, a true maverick, who figures it was downhill all the way after the unofficial recordings from the Star Club). What had once seemed a weakness (the overly eclectic nature of the material) now, in the MP3 era, seems a virtue. Two of the best critical pieces on these disks are from Ian MacDonald (author of the wonderful Revolution in the Head) and Charles Shaar Murray. MacDonald’s book goes into detail about all of the Beatles official recordings and while there’s much to differ with I tend to find his comments mostly on the money. He notes that the ‘White Album’ was originally to have been entitled 'A Doll’s House' but that the Leicester band, Family, brought out their first album with a close enough title for the Fabs to have to change tack. MacDonald ruminates on what a possible cover illustration together with the slightly seedy, crepuscular feel of the work within might have done for the album. While he doesn’t consider it their best work by a long shot he details the long studio session when the track order was worked out and calls the album ‘a masterpiece of sequencing’. Murray noticed astutely that while the people he spoke to were almost all in agreement that the album would have been better as one record rather than two it was hard for them to reach any agreement about which tracks were to be retained.

A personal footnote: When I was at Monash University in the late 1960s the Labor Club, while preferring the official music of various Marxist regimes alongside the work of tedious ‘folk’ artists, begrudgingly countenanced some current rock and pop, presumably to lure in those youngsters like myself who knew no better. In 1968 however, a ban was placed on all Beatles records not long after ‘Revolution’ hit the airwaves.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

the lovemakers

Alan Wearne read last week at the Menzies Centre and again last night in the Shearsman series. He presented very different work at the two readings. The Menzies reading showcased poems from his recent Giramondo book containing shorter poems while the Shearsman event focussed on The Lovemakers, his most recent verse novel. This volume has had a tortuous history. Penguin Books (Australia) agreed to publish the work but then decided to break it into two volumes. Then, despite the critical success of Volume 1, they chose not to publish the second half of the work. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation came along some years later and published Volume 2 in a form approximating to the Penguin design. But Penguin had already pulped the first book and not all that long afterwards the ABC did the same. At last, thanks to Tony Frazer and the University of Wollongong (who partly funded the project), the work is available as a single volume (and with Shearsman’s POD approach, it will remain available as long as the author wishes it to). This was something to celebrate. In introducing the author, Tony Frazer called the book the ‘War & Peace’ of verse novels, referring here to more than just its size. Wearne began writing verse novels some time ago; long before the form became fashionable again (his two previous verse novels are Out Here and The Nightmarkets: both worth seeking out). There have been many less than satisfactory attempts in the genre in recent years and some of these have garnered more publicity than Wearne’s work. Unlike many of the other verse novelists, Wearne is a master of form. I remember reading The Nightmarkets and discovering a complex rhyme scheme in a passage so subtly put together that the fact hadn’t obtruded immediately. These works are no more and no less difficult than Browning: you just have to pay attention. And Wearne’s models are by no means nineteenth-century authors only. The New Yorkers have their place in the origins of these books too.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Friday, 6 November 2009

a diary

I’m not sure whether or not my brain cells have shrunk to twitter dimensions but the only way I can get through the last two weeks or so of readings &c at present is in brief form. On Tuesday 20th October I saw August Kleinzahler read at the London Review Bookshop. He has always been a fine reader and at this event he interspersed with the poems extracts from his critical work Music. Wednesday 28th I attended a Shearsman reading featuring WD Jackson and Alice Kavounas, followed by another such on Tuesday November 3rd featuring Giles Goodland and Frances Presley, launching her new book Lines of Sight. Then last night at the Crossing the Line reading there was further celebration of Alan Halsey and Gavin Selerie’s 60 years in the business of being alive. The photos above are, respectively, Frances Presley at Swedenborg Hall, Giles Goodland ditto, and Gavin Selerie and Alan Halsey partly obscured by Jeff Hilson and a couple of microphones at the Leather Exchange.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


The photograph above dates from 1964. I am the second boy from the left in the top row and my friend John Scannell is third from left and circled. In late 1965, a year after this photo of the 5th Oakleigh-Monash scout troop was taken, I had what could have been a life-ending (though it turned out to be a life-changing) experience. I collapsed at school with an aneurysm that caused a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage (that is, a haemorrhage just below the brain). I spent six weeks or so in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne (completely unconscious for the first two of these) and was operated on by the institution’s honorary neurosurgeon. I knew later just how close I had come to death. The aneurysm itself could have been fatal but if its onset had been delayed for only a few minutes I would have been riding my bicycle home along a busy road.

Though I was never keen on sport I had been otherwise as physically active as any sixteen year old, but the upshot of this event meant that I spent several months of my life in a state of relative physical inactivity. Though I had been a successful student generally I nonetheless had to repeat my fifth year of high school because I had missed the end of year exams. Over the academic year of 1966 I had it easy, with mostly unchallenging schoolwork and no sport. I began then to write poems. Elsewhere I have noted how periods of enforced leisure have often turned young people’s minds to writing. William Carlos Williams spoke of a ‘heart strain’ diverting his attentions from track stardom to poetry, and many others have had similar experiences. To be deprived of activity in one area while you are in your youth tends to divert your energies elsewhere. And this is what happened in my case.

Another side effect of my collapse was that my long-term memory, or at least that of events before the incident, was adversely affected. I realised later that much of what I thought I could remember was either the product of information given to me by a third party or a false memory worked up from photographs. Over the years I have retrieved memories that I know there is no external evidence for. But I have no memory of the day of the aneurysm apart from what I’d been told since. I’ve given an account elsewhere based on the information I had at the time but it turns out that this information was wrong on a couple of points and lacking in detail. Thanks to the web (and as of the last week) I have a clearer picture of what happened. John Scannell, whom I’d only seen once briefly since leaving school at the end of 1967, found, through happenstance, this site, and as a result sent me a couple of wonderful emails that finally tell a story that rings true. Here, in edited form, are the details in his words:

The main reason for me getting in touch was to fill you in a bit on something you have on another site regarding your aneurysm. The sequence as I recall it starts with you crouching at your locker (bottom row, second from the left) after school, getting your books out to take home. I was standing beside you when you put your hand to your temple and said "I've got a headache". At which point you collapsed to the left onto the classroom floor. This naturally attracted some attention, particularly from Mrs Mee who wanted to take you to the sick room. I stopped her and told her to call an ambulance. Other teachers arrived and insisted on moving you. I put the lid of a desk under your head and shoulders to prevent movement and it was at this time that the ambulance arrived. After it left with you aboard, I telephoned your mother and told her what had happened. The rest you probably know.


I recall that I would call in at your place each morning on the way to school for an update. I know that I visited you in hospital at least once. After reading your e-mail yesterday, I was surprised at how many memories came back to me. I was reminded of a passage from "The Shadow of the Wind", by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, where he said "As it unfolded, the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable diminishing replicas of itself inside. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors. Its identity fragmented into endless reflections." It goes on a bit later; "Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later- no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget- we will return."

Friday, 9 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

at the Swedenborg

A new season of Shearsman launches took off last night with readings by Angela Gardner for her new book Views of the Hudson, and by Gavin Selerie for his new and selected volume Music’s Duel. The turnout was more than respectable given that an Openned reading was on at the same time featuring some people who might otherwise have been at this one. The great man himself passively watched the rest of us as the poets read their work. Openned, by the way, has a newly designed and highly accessible website that’s always worth checking out.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Friday, 2 October 2009

rhymes with beer

So where else but the Leather Exchange to launch new titles from the Veer list? The readers were James Wilkes, James Harvey, Jon Clay, Antony John and 'Out to Lunch' (aka Ben Watson). The Exchange is now under new management and they had placed scented candles on the sills of the upstairs room and arranged the chairs as though we were going to have a 'real' poetry reading (photo at top taken before the crowd arrived). A mirror, removed from one of the walls revealed a bar. There was also a sound system operated by a dreadlocked DJ downstairs, but once the upstairs speakers were switched off it was quiet enough for a reading. I have to say it all worked pretty well and there was a substantial turnout. The highlights for me were James Wilkes' fake notices in Reviews, James Harvey's work from Temporary Structures and Out to Lunch's reading from Swift Blab Residue. OTL (above) read a further piece involving in part the aural translation of squiggles (a homage to Bob Cobbing). The energy of this performance put the baby on his shoulder to sleep. For further information about Veer titles email

Friday, 25 September 2009

contacting me

I have a problem. Recently a couple of readers have tried to contact me via the comment channel on this blog but I can't get back to you unless I have an email address. Could you please send your addresses via the comment function. Since I moderate comments I can make a note of addresses without putting them up on the blog, thus ensuring your own privacy. Then I can write to you backchannel.

Friday, 18 September 2009

art writing

Ken Bolton has always been modest about his work outside of the writing of poems. It took years before he would exhibit any of his drawings or designs, though, as anyone who has been published by him knows, his skills in these areas are considerable. Ken has also been a fine art writer for a long time. He belongs, I think, to the great tradition of poets who write about art. So it’s timely that the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia should have chosen to publish a collection of his critical work on local artists. I think Ken takes his brief seriously. He is dealing with the work of visual artists we may or may not be aware of and he seeks to stimulate our interest in them. His approach is one that without aid of reproduction (which, in the case of many, might not be altogether reliable within the limits of art journals with limited sponsorship) attempts to enlist its readers in a field of interest (i.e. if this reads well to you, perhaps you should hunt for these works). I am aware of the work of a few of the artists Ken talks about but by no means the majority of them. He makes me feel that I ought to chase these other presences up. Sometimes he does this through vivid description, sometimes through faux interviews where the artist is presented as a tough guy (male or female) who doesn’t want to ‘let on’. Whatever, Ken’s writing intrigues and demands (on our part) an effort to see the works themselves.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

'Italian Shoes'

i.m. Willy de Ville 1950-2009

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Monday, 14 September 2009

Saturday, 5 September 2009

hopping down in Kent

It's that time of year again. One striking difference: the large number of women Morris Dancing, many of them in women-only groups. Over the last couple of years it may have seemed as though this activity was restricted to grey-bearded gentlemen of some girth with a fondness for wearing dresses. Not so any longer apparently.

And these guys had a red hot go at 'Highway to Hell'.

North Downs Way, September

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

exigent futures

What could be more natural than this image of three adolescent boys goofing off in a wrecked car. The photo was taken by my mother with my Box Brownie camera in the early 1960s and the three boys are myself (middle) with Lindsay Peterson (right), and Greg Smith (left), two neighbourhood friends in the then nascent southeastern Melbourne suburb of Clayton. Greg’s mother, Olwyn Schoenheimer, was a good friend of my own mother. She was a lively Jewish woman whose many male partners inevitably failed to live up to their promise. Greg had passed through several surnames, Smith presumably that of his biological father. Like myself he was an only child, though he was a good two or so years older than me. His mother worked as an occupational therapist at Sunbury psychiatric hospital on the far side of Melbourne. We visited Olwyn at work, a situation that must have been strange for my mother since she had visited her own father (who was also Jewish) in a psychiatric institution through the 1930s. I was unaware of this uncomfortable element of the past at the time and took in the scene at the institution much as I had taken in the scene of an abattoirs I had visited a few years before (a family friend worked there). Greg and I grew apart as we grew older. I went to university. He became a journalist. He changed his name then to Shackleton (it sounded ‘solid’ to him). In October 1975, along with Malcolm Rennie, Brian Peters, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart, he was killed by the Indonesian army at Balibo in East Timor. The journalists were poised to report on an imminent invasion of what was then still known as Portuguese Timor. The Australian Labor government turned a blind eye to this occurrence, unwilling to criticise the Indonesian government; interested more in the possibility of dividing up the oil resources of the Timor Sea.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

the Italo-Welsh connection

Last night's reading at the Lamb featured (from top) Angela Gardner, Elizabeth James and myself. It was a pretty good turnout for August. Angela has a new book, Views of the Hudson, from Shearsman that will be launched in London in October. She read from this as well as her earlier book, Parts of Speech (University of Queensland Press). The reading was a reunion of sorts. Angela and I had gravitated together in Brisbane where she still lives. And it turned out that she and Elizabeth James were school friends in Wales. Angela is back in the northern hemisphere for a few months and currently working on a project in Ireland (to see some of her visual works among other things try the above link). It was a great gig too, even if the accordionist at the adjacent Italian restaurant struck up while I was reading some shorter stuff.